Could we discuss garden coaching?

nandina(8b)November 30, 2011

Following this Forum over the years has been interesting. It leads me to asking your thoughts on who is qualified to be a garden coach, just what is a garden coach and when does such coaching begin to tread on the toes of licensed designers and LA's. And I can think of many other questions related to the topic. Any thoughts?

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Did my thread on helping my neighour prompt this question? What I'm doing for her certainly goes beyond the usual help a gardening neighbour offers to a 'newbie gardener' I know. There are a number of special circumstances around this interaction that I'm not comfortable talking about here. While I've enjoyed the LD1 and CAD courses I've taken at the University of Guelph over the past two winters, I have no desire to ever do this professionally - but I do like playing with new 'toys' so it keeps me from going brain-dead in the winter/non-gardening season and my neighbour will hopefully get some benefit from it. She knows I'm not a professional and just doing this for fun. There are a lot of avid gardeners in this neighbourhood and we all enjoy sharing plants and knowledge with each other. She will now be part of that network more quickly than she otherwise would be.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 5:58PM
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Interesting topic, but not exactly sure where you are going with it? I love the idea of this discussion - don't get me wrong - but i think maybe if you defined your terms it would help me understand where you are going with the topic. Garden coach, garden designer, landscape designer and LA, are all very different in my mind, without stepping on each other's toes. Perhaps that is the result of living in a state with very limited licensing requirements, but it would be helpful to me if you defined what you mean.

Woody, I cannot speak for nandina, but in my mind your recent thread has nothing to do with this conversation. How can anyone have a problem with someone helping their neighbor for free? Your neighbor is blessed that you have so much knowledge and experience. I think what you and your neighbors are doing is what gardening is all about...sharing knowledge, getting inspired by others gardens, dividing plants, meeting neighbors and enjoying the outdoors.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 7:04PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

It wouldn't surprise me if Woody's was the prompting thread, but I think the thing that avoids Woody's help actually stepping on anyone's toes is that I think the homeowners involved would be very unlikely to be thinking of hiring a designer if they hadn't encountered Woody. In other words, no toes being trod on because no one is losing any income. I think coaching is a wonderful term, and if anything it may reduce misguided DIY work, but not designer income.

But if I think back on every time I've read that a simple homeowner with a small property has trouble getting the attention or interest (or an affordable quote) from a designer, I'm not sure that a little toe-stepping wouldn't be quite beneficial to some of them!

That also applies to the supercilious attitude that greets some of the amateur queries we get here. People come in here wanting coaching, and while some designers are very good at helping to zero in on the design issue or the solution, there is an element of snobbery that creates a distance between asker and designer. Coaching describes beautifully what I think many of us non-designers but experienced gardeners do here on the forum - trying to help people identify and achieve their vision. Contrast this with trying to land a gig articulating that vision for them, which most homeowners are not, and never will be, in the market for.

So the related question to me is, if designers keep moving up-market, what do they think is going to happen at the bottom end of it? They create a vacuum, an opportunity, for people who will take clients' tiny little concerns, like how to hide the hose, seriously and make an effort to help. If you're too grand to make it affordable for someone to ask you that kind of question in real life, that's a business opportunity for someone else. Turn up your nose at an opportunity to earn $50-200 for a consultation by all means, but don't imagine that it will increase your chances of getting more money from the same customer. It probably won't change your marketability in the $20,000+ range to refuse small jobs. But the people who want to pay you $100 were never in that range anyway. So all you're doing is giving up the $200, not making it any more likely that they will pay you $20,000.

Plant-sharing, now there's something that steps on toes - those of the local nursery. But it's hard not to share something that grows.

Karin L

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 8:10PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

It strikes me as a bit gimmicky,similar to using current buzz words like "green" or "sustainable" to one's list of qualifications. I don't personally see how this niche is any sort of real conflict with the others listed. I'd also take exception to the "licensed" as a qualifier to doing quality garden design; in my view it is more about talent, skills and experience.

As to whether professionals use this site to find future clients, at least in my own experience here it isn't likely. It would seem that getting published in the local paper's garden section or a national garden magazine is more likely to lead to work enquiries than posting here. As to the levels of design work and responded, I think most people respond when they have something to add, and will tend to keep mum when they don't have an interest or stake in the topic.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 3:01AM
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I am surprised you didn't write my name karin, it only has three letters.

Like dirtygirl I would like to know where Nandina is going with this question. Call me a snob but 'gardening' and 'landscape/garden design' are not the same thing so I can't see how coaching someone to garden would be intruding on a designers territory.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 8:35AM
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Few people can afford to hire a landscape designer, or to carry out extensive renovations. I think it would be a wonderful idea for DIYers to get off to a good start with a gardening coach.

I have been gardening for a long time, but could still use some help design-wise. I would consider hiring a coach just to get an outside opinion if I knew enough about them that I felt they could be helpful.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 11:19AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Karin, you're right about it's hard not to share something that grows. I even give plants away to a couple of local nurseries. I'm a pushover when it comes to gardening friends.

I have no issue with garden coach's either. If nothing else, they spark more interest for gardening newbies.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 12:09PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Here in the SF Bay Area, there are many local nurseries and Botanic gardens that bring in garden designers as guest speakers for seasonal topics and talks. This can be an excellent way to see designer's works and see if their approach is a good fit for your circumstances. Such talks are often free or a nominal charge, and one can then follow up with a consultation that is much less than a full design fee and is usually charged at an hourly rate. In my view this is the same service as garden coaching, and you'll have had the advantage of direct exposure and can better focus your questions. I'm sure there are similar garden talk opportunities in other metropolitan areas, or you could suggest it to your local nurseries.

It would also seem that there are plenty of self magazines out there that perform the role of garden coaching. As a designer myself, I tend to find such magazines boring, and prefer to read about gardens or designers who tell/show their work in their own fashion without the "how-to" focus,but more about the overall theme or focus on plants used and where they originate. I personally find it more interesting to design with plants that share similar climates/soil or watering preferences/ unusual seasons of bloom. Therefore I spend a lot of time visiting the local Botanic gardens and further researching new to me plants that catch my attention, especially those with distinctive foliage or form and fall and winter blooms.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 12:25PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

I've never heard the term garden coach before, but to me it infers a longer term relationship than posters are looking for when they ask a question here. The majority of new faces who come here with a question are looking for a fast, packaged solution. Many of them are new to gardening and don't understand the concept of time and patience needed to create a garden, and have very little concept of what "planning" means.

A coach, or the term I prefer, mentor, is a longer-term relationship. It could be formally structured as a series of meetings to discuss various challenges as they arise, or it could be a completely informal relationship, as between two neighbors, one with years of experience, and the other an interested and engaged learner.

It would be extraordinarily rare to find this in a paid, professional capacity. I don't think I've ever seen anyone advertise their services as a garden therapist, but maybe it's a whole new field...

"Garden Therapist, monthly or quarterly sessions, 90 minutes each, with complete written report, recommendations and sketches following each session. $6,000 for 12 monthly sessions or $1,500 for 4 quarterly sessions. Please complete the following questionnaire:

1) Do you have difficulty making plant decisions? never/ sometimes/ often/ always
2) Which of these best describes your garden style? formal/ modern/ cottage/ irrational exuberance
3) How much time will you spend maintaining your garden? 2 hours daily/ 6 hours weekly/ 1 hour weekly/ subcontract out
4) When a plant doesn't thrive, what do you do? replace it/ spray, fertlize, water/ hope for the best/ arrange a funeral and go into mourning
5) What kind of interaction do you have with your garden? I don't know what you mean/ It's party central/ I sit on a bench with a cuppa and enjoy the view/ I have conversations with my plants

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 2:47PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Hi Nandina,
Long time no see/ chat.
Q. who is qualified to be a garden coach In my opinion, anyone. It's not a licensed field. I would suggest to anyone that is looking for a consultant / coach/ designer that buyer be aware. Do your research. There are 'good, bad and ugly' in every free market economy / field.

Q. just what is a garden coach and when does such coaching begin to tread on the toes of licensed designers and LA's. - A coach is someone who hopefully can inspire and educate.
I've never had a problem with others in the same field treading on my toes. .. Call it ego or call it a awareness of where I am in my career , but I am confident in my abilities and if I am in competition for a project with another professional I let my portfolio, education, talent and skill speak for itself.

I don't worry too much about the other guy. I have enough on my own plate to keep me busy.

I've always felt that there is always someone for someone . ... ..
Great designers for great clients
Bottom of the bucket so called professionals for bottom of the bucket clients
Cheap professionals for cheap clients
Amazingly talented professionals for amazingly open minded clients.

Pick your niche and serve it well.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 4:26PM
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I think you may have to step in here Anne so that we get a grasp on your intentions. We are not involved in an exact way of doing stuff like golf so a garden coach needs the qualification of having made a garden, when we come to talking about whether that is their own garden or a 'clients' garden is where the way parts.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 5:42PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Nobody owns the marketplace, if somebody new comes in and attracts some business away from somebody already there, by virtue of offering what is more in keeping with what a segment of the market is looking for, then so be it. This has been going on for, like, forever.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 8:45PM
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Interesting topic. When I first went out on my own as a designer I made an attempt at the garden coaching thing. I love educating, I love the hands on, and when you frame it as "a personal trainer for gardeners" it kind of clicks with folks.

As I booked some appointments it became clear that for a number of these folks, they really needed a master plan. Hey, I'm thrilled to make $XX standing behind someone and saying "prune that. Don't touch that" for two hours, but it doesn't address the actual problem that's holding them back from falling in love with their yard. It ended up being a great upsell opportunity for master plans, and I included a maintenance plan and a walkthrough with it.

I also realized that I couldn't put the effort into chasing down leads who wanted to spend a max of $200 and grow the design side of my business the way I wanted. So currently, if someone calls me for coaching and that's actually what will solve their problem - I refer them out. Even if I'm billing for drive time, there's more that goes into acquiring and maintaining a client than just the time we spend on site together.

I don't see where a garden coach is going to step on a designer's toes. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm a great referral source for a garden coach because we all know that a great design takes time and a little shaping to come to fruition. I can't be everywhere at once. By the same token, I get referrals from garden coaches who recognize where their skillset maxes out. I'm happy to delight their clients and hand them back.

And, I'll admit to having felt like some designers were snobby or whatever, design should be accessible, etc. Then I launched my firm and knowing now what I have to clear each month to keep the lights on, never mind being profitable... holy crap. I've met with people I've really, really liked, and I know I could knock their socks off. And then they say "well, money's tight. What can you give us for a hundred bucks?" Not a design. I wish I could!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 9:35PM
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It looks as though Marcinde wins the gold ring. A general description of a garden coach would be an individual who has devoted years to and is familiar with gardening in one area, enjoys teaching and solving garden problems and finds helping others rewarding. A garden coach usually meets with a customer at a per hour rate, answers gardening questions which usually relate to plant selection, plant growth, vegetable gardening, soil improvement, organic gardening and sometimes limited design thoughts which can easily be expressed drawing lines in the dirt.

There is a demand for garden coaches especially in large urban areas and those spots around the country which attract newly retired persons unfamiliar with the area plants and growing techniques. And, as Marcinde says, garden coaches and LA's can exist together helping each other.

I would encourage those with the knowledge to consider garden coaching. What you have learned in your garden about color combinations, layering, planting for all season growth/color, etc. has been a complicated and dedicated learning curve. Do not be afraid to charge for an hourly teaching lesson. There are many very willing to pay your fee to learn the basics.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2011 at 2:43PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Nandina--so that's what I was trying to do this past fall...I was trying to be a Garden Coach. Hunh. I was advertising myself as a garden consultant. I didn't get very far--I've developed peripheral neuropathy so I'm working on putting my jewelry-making skills to work, rather than my gardening skills. Falling down in front of clients is NOT a workable business model...and I fell more than once.

Ah well. If the neuropathy turns out to be reversible, I know what my business model/name is! (I was charging hourly...just had the wrong "name".)

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 5:05PM
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I guess I fit in both boxes. I am a landscape designer, horticultural consultant AND a garden coach. I do exactly what Nandina describes, with the specific service tailored to the client's needs. Since the bulk of my design client base are DIY'ers, coaching is a natural offshoot of that activity. In addition to onsite consultation and coaching, I also give classes through the nursery I am associated with as well as at a local horticultural college. Sharing my knowledge with others is a primary motivating force in my career well as prompting much of my participation here on GW :-)) I don't see any reason why there should be any perception of toe-stepping - these types of services are not mutually exclusive and there's room for all.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 5:10PM
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A lot of great responses in here. I particularly agrre with the deviant one, word for word. Also, Marcinde explained the business end pretty well.

It is all about providing a valued service that is valued and paid for by real people other than ourselves.

If you can get paid for your service, it is valued. If you can get paid equal to what you feel you need to be paid to do it, you have a business. It does not matter what that service is or what your credentials are. If you are not valued and paid adequately by others, it is a non-starter.

It does not matter if some people don't feel like you are qualified or not just as long as there are enough of those who do, they find you, and they want to pay you. It is free and open, the only problem is that it is not that easy.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 6:36PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Mel, you would be great at it, so I do hope your neuropathy is reversible, or that you can find a snazzy enough wheeled conveyance to continue to do it in style either way! Best wishes!

Bahia, I didn't mean that professionals are using the site to sell their services. I was getting keyboard-lazy, but only meant to say that there is no loss to designers if coaching customers are not in the market for a designer in the first place.

Ink, although you do snotty really well, you aren't the only one :-) I've done it myself.

Karin L

    Bookmark   December 4, 2011 at 7:59PM
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Hi Karin, I think you make an interesting point about this forum and garden coaching, and your most recent comment reminded me to post about it - I was kind of waiting to see where the whole thread was going - but it seems like for the most part we are all in agreement about this one.

The point you made was: " Coaching describes beautifully what I think many of us non-designers but experienced gardeners do here on the forum - trying to help people identify and achieve their vision. Contrast this with trying to land a gig articulating that vision for them, which most homeowners are not, and never will be, in the market for."

I believe you are correct in your first sentence and I think that aspect of this forum can be very valuable to the people seeking advice here. Unfortunately, I disagree that most posters here are looking for "vision". Most of the questions here are seeking answers like "prune this, hide that." Its different than an overall vision for a landscape.
I disagree with the second sentence - and you corrected yourself- but to be honest it is difficult to take the time to post on this forum about something that is as uninteresting to me as "how do you hide your hose?" As David says, I try to only post when I have something to contribute, or when the topic interests me.

A similar concept applies to business. I know it is hard sometimes for people to understand but I AM IN BUSINESS. There are a lot of people who design and maintain in my area who clearly are not making enough money to have a viable business. Occasionally I have had someone who is new to design/maintenance who tries to compete with my company. For the most part, my clients get the fact that not understanding enough about the numbers (meaning you don't charge enough to cover your expenses) means you won't be in business for very long. Occasionally someone opts for the cheaper option, but almost 90% of the time they come back to the quality, insured, professional, well run business. As mentioned by other posters, I am confident enough in my skills to not worry about that very much.

The other thing, that is probably not okay to say, but honestly, the majority of landscapes suck. Really. There is so little example of good landscape in my area that most people have no idea what is aesthetically pleasing or why that might be enhancing to their lives. I think that is just as prevalent on this forum, but at least the people who post here ARE desiring something better. They may not know what that is, however. If I feel like someone may be receptive to actually moving their garden to another level I am very interested. If a poster is asking a tiny question about their entirely awful landscape, I really don't have a lot of interest in answering the question. I am so sorry that it comes across as snobby, but its really not a matter of snobbery, but of interest, particularly when my time is limited.

I really like how you, Karin, keep the finger on the pulse of what is happening on the forum. I have said it before, but to reiterate, I pay too little attention to the dynamics. I appreciate you bringing things back around.
Do you think this is my longest post ever? It may be:)

    Bookmark   December 5, 2011 at 6:21PM
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Hi, guys-
Yep. It's been a while since I've been around.
Just wanted to let you know that you'd helped me figure out what I want under the Christmas tree ... a garden coach.
One of the reasons that I took a hiatus from posting here was that there was too much of a psychic divide between where my garden has been stuck for a few years and the fact that I would occasionally parrot advice here.
Bluntly, I'm just not physically capable of practicing what I preach. So, for instance, if anyone remembers the nasty hose mess at my house, posted eons ago, it still gets dragged out and strung around every year. I can't even bring that subject up with my life partner. It works for him, convenient for him, and it causes nasty rows to try and explain that I don't like dancing and tripping over hoses. I figure if the potential of breaking my leg won't change the set-up, then something as airy-fairy as aesthetics won't convince him. That's just one of a long list of garden related matters that just haven't shifted much over the past 5 years.
This sounds like I'm looking for physical labor. Well, that would help, but what I really need is a real, live person in my garden on occasion who would encourage, listen, suggest, and help me refine what to try next. I know my garden will only move slowly ... glaciers come to mind ... in the direction I'm hoping for, but sometimes I just wish there was someone to share the journey with.

So, I'll be looking for a large box under the Christmas tree with breathing holes, of course. Label reads - Fragile. Handle with care. Garden coach will spring up when package is open.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 7:33AM
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Scratch... scratch... cough... weeze... Oi you! open the box already it is hot in here and I am hungry too, I can't wait another 13 days.

See, even garden coaches need food light and air and a little drink would help too it is Christmas after all.

I hope that you are well Charlotte.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 8:08AM
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Oooooh! Look what I got for Christmas! Let me check the bottom. Says made in Great Britain, but looks like it shipped from Canada.

Are you telling me I'm going to have to feed this thing? wonder what it drinks?

I'm well enough. And thanks for the laugh ...

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 9:58AM
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